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Marijuana #RiskyBusiness

By Jennifer Smith, Program Manager, Outpatient Services

While the term “stoner” may conjure up comical visions of the infamous duo, the affable Cheech and Chong in the 1970s or loveable stoner Jeff Spicoli (Sean Penn) in the 1980s cult classic, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, make no mistake.  Smoking marijuana is no laughing matter.  It’s risky business.  And, no, we are not referencing another 80s cult classic with Tom Cruise. 

Nearly a third of 12 to 17 year olds in the U.S. have used an illicit drug in their lifetime.  Today, teens are using drugs at younger ages, when their brains and bodies are still developing. Of all illicit drugs, marijuana is the most widely used. 

Long-term marijuana users show signs of a lack of motivation (amotivational syndrome).  Their problems include not caring about what happens in their lives and lack the gumption to set goals and just to manage daily responsibilities, such as going to work or to school.  Heavily or daily marijuana use affects the part of the brain that controls memory, attention, and learning.  This can make it difficult to learn and to perform tasks that call for more than one or two steps.  Additional symptoms of heavy marijuana use may include withdrawal, characterized by restlessness, loss of appetite, trouble sleeping, and shaky hands. 

One joint can deliver four times as much cancer-causing tar as a cigarette. In a study conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, a moderate dose of marijuana alone was shown to impair driving performance. 

The marijuana produced today has more than twice the concentration of THC (the chemical that affects that brains) than 20 years ago.  So, just imagine how this would affect our duo of Cheech and Chong today?  No laughing matter. 

There is a connection between marijuana use and mental health problems.  Young people who use marijuana weekly have double the risk of depression later in life, and teens who smoke marijuana weekly are three times more likely than non-users to have suicidal thoughts.  Marijuana use in some teens has been linked to increased risk for schizophrenia in later years.  Had there been a Fast Times at Ridgemont High 2, we might have seen a window into some of these longer-term mental health effects. 

Signs and symptoms of use can vary by individual, but here are the more common signs:  skipping work or school/not doing well in work or school, unusual odors on clothes, lack of cooperation/hostility, physical changes (red eyes), borrowing money often, lack of interest in activities, significant mood changes, loss of interest in personal appearance, change in friends, and heightened secrecy about actions or possessions. 

If an individual who abuses marijuana does not seek and enter treatment, the impact can be substantial.  As a substance abuse counselors, we have seen it firsthand.  It may include loss of job, removal from school, strained relationships with parents and family members, isolation, criminal involvement, up to and including incarceration, and loss of freedoms that we enjoy.  Remember that it is never too late to seek treatment.  Let’s say, if Tommy Chong, now age 78, were to enter treatment, he would still be able to benefit from the wide array of evidence-based substance use treatment that it available today